By Rich Stillman
As a small business operator in the tech industry, I know that great employees are the building blocks of any company’s success. To stay competitive and have a thriving business, our company needs to recruit and retain top talent.
One of the most important aspects of recruiting and retaining our employees is our state’s quality of life. In fact, access to outdoor activities is contributing to a rate of job growth in the West that exceeds the U.S. overall. When Tecplot started back in the ’80s, the company was in a position to choose where to set up business, and one of the big reasons for locating in the Seattle area was the spectacular outdoor quality of life. And companies like ours continue to move here – growth in healthcare, high-tech, finance industries is outpacing other parts of the country. Our team can tackle Mount Si or ride the trails at Tiger Mountain after work and backpack in the Cascades on the weekends. We can recruit and retain talented employees by highlighting these incredible recreational opportunities, which offer an outlet for relaxation and inspiration. We want our employees to be happy at work, but also happy in the place where they live, a place where they enjoy their lifestyles. Close-to-home access to the outdoors doesn’t only help us attract and retain the most talented employees. I believe it helps our team stay passionate, committed and creative. A recent cover story in Outside Magazine points to increasing scientific data about the benefits of the outdoors to reducing stress and boosting creativity. It can give a company like ours a competitive advantage.
Economists say that competitive advantage is real – and they see it in communities across the West. A new report, West is Best by the nonprofit economic research group Headwaters Economics, says that the western United States is outperforming the rest of the country in job creation, personal income, and population growth, and that protected lands – like national parks, monuments, and wilderness – are providing western states with a competitive economic advantage that helps create more jobs (especially in services industries like high-tech) and higher per capita income. Specifically:
From 1970 to 2010, the West’s employment grew by 152 percent compared to 78 percent for the rest of the country. This job growth was almost entirely in services industries such as healthcare, real estate, high-tech, and finance and insurance, which created 19.3 million net new jobs, many of which are high-wage jobs.
Rural western counties with more than 30 percent of their land base in federal protected status (such as national parks, monuments or wilderness) increased jobs by 345 percent over the last 40 years. By comparison, similar counties with no protected federal public lands increased employment by only 83 percent.
Maintaining this competitive advantage requires balancing development of our public lands with protections for the places our communities care about — those irreplaceable landscapes that local sportsmen, skiers, climbers, hikers, and even us techies count on for our way of life.
The logical conclusion is continued support of programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s premier funding source to protect our outdoors and provide public access to the outdoors.
Dealing responsibly with the federal government’s deficit problems requires identifying and prioritizing what our nation needs most to compete in the world today and continue to support companies like mine that rely on a skilled and balanced workforce. Congress and the White House should keep America’s parks and public lands on the priority list.
Rich Stillman is CEO of Tecplot, Inc. in Bellevue, a company that produces visualization software for engineers and scientists.